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The Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs discussed strategies on how to gauge social climate within the faculty and staff through surveys soon to be released. The committee also debated how to promote diversity without undermining Proposal 2, Michigan’s 2006 legislation that prevents universities from using affirmative action — including special preferences based on factors such as ethnicity, race and gender — in admissions and hiring.
Jennifer Linderman, director of the ADVANCE program, first introduced the variety of programs housed under ADVANCE, which originated as a program to promote representation of female faculty in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields and expanded to promote diversity across the University of Michigan as a whole.
“Basically we’re after supporting a diverse and excellent faculty here at the University,” Linderman said.
She also answered various questions about ADVANCE’s involvement with the University’s hiring process and its process for department-specific social climate surveys. In regards to hiring new faculty members, Linderman said ADVANCE primarily offers advice on how to be mindful of diversity during the review of potential faculty and staff members.
“I see it mostly as advice as how to be thoughtful about your process in terms of when you evaluate candidates,” she said.
SACUA member Robert Ortega, associate professor of social work, raised concerns about faculty climate surveys, as well as the importance of transparency in how the results are used and anonymity of participants. He said faculty members are often reluctant to fill out demographic information and surveys in general because they feel they may be identified based on responses.
“What happens is, when you don’t know me, that’s a silent voice,” he said. “And why you don’t know about me is because I know if you ask about me, you’re going to know it’s me. So if you’re asking me to evaluate my dean, this is one cell size away from knowing who sent that evaluation in.”
However, Linderman said when conducting departmental climate surveys, ADVANCE emphasizes high participation and anonymity when conveying results.
“ADVANCE is outside of the unit, so we’re hoping that makes people understand that we’re not part of the unit … we’re outside,” she said. “We do not give results that are identifiable … we work really hard to make sure individuals are not identifiable, we are very concerned about that, as you are.”
Robert Sellers, vice provost for Equity and Inclusion, also discussed his duties as chief diversity officer at the meeting, a position created last October in conjunction with University President Mark Schlissel’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion plan, to oversee the implementation of the strategic plan. He said these efforts are vital for achieving the University’s mission.
“When I think about DEI, it’s fundamental to our proposition as a University; it’s absolutely consistent with our mission as an institution,” Sellers said.
Sellers responded to questions about the place of standardized testing in the evaluation of graduate school candidates and the interaction between Proposal 2 and recruitment techniques.
Ortega wondered how the practices implemented with the DEI plan might be better communicated to faculty.
“I guess the bigger question is how faculty are being engaged in these conversations, so we can get some of these agendas out and pay attention to them,” he said.
Sellers said he has held various formal and informal meetings with diverse groups of faculty members to foster discussion about University policies on diversity, citing conversations related to the extent of Proposal 2.
“One of the effects of Prop 2 is this false sense that we can’t do anything, and people being afraid of moving forward,” he said. “There’s a lot of things we can do, we just have to be careful and be lawful.”